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  • China Information Operations Newsletter 4 May 2022

    4 May 2022

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    The China Information Operations Newsletter is edited by Hannah Bailey, a researcher at the Programme on Democracy and Technology (DemTech) at Oxford University. This newsletter is a 6 minute read.

    Creative Netizens are Evading Online Censors to Protest Lockdowns

    As Shanghai and Beijing enforce strict Covid lockdowns, social media users are protesting by sharing videos of enforcers mistreating residents. In Shanghai, a video that went viral shows police forcing people out of their homes to make room for quarantine centres. Other WeChat posts criticise the so-called “Big White” lockdown enforcers for barricading people in their homes, abusing pets, and mistreating elderly residents. Videos of enforcers mistreating residents are being uploaded quicker than censors can remove them.

    On Weibo and WeChat, social media users are evading censors by hijacking official hashtags to criticise government lockdown policies. When state media accounts promoted the hashtag “the US is the country with the largest human rights deficit” on Weibo, netizens used this hashtag to criticise the government. Censors are overwhelmed by the number of posts pleading for medical help or food supplies amidst the strict lockdowns.

    China’s censorship infrastructure is backfiring. An article in the American Political Science Review establishes that China’s censorship programme is intended to silence collective action. However, this also means that grassroots reports of local food shortages and other issues arising from city-wide lockdowns fail to reach policymakers. Under lockdown, strict censorship can also inhibit rapid responses to local issues.

    Many residents are using online crowdsourced information to help other residents. Volunteers have built medical-aid databases and apps on pet care and cooking to support those in lockdown.

    Influence and Infiltration: How China’s Information Operations are Spreading

    Many countries have emulated China’s approach to information control during the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, China has asserted that its ability to control domestic information has allowed it to better manage the spread of the virus. The New Yorker reports that according to the Human Rights Watch, over eighty countries have also restricted speech and political expression under the guise of public health measures.

    China is also expanding its propaganda operations. A report by the Atlantic Council tracks China’s growing discourse power in the Global South. Alongside an expansion in the international activity of Chinese state-backed media outlets, a report by ASPI also finds pro-Chinese Communist Party social media networks continue to inauthentically amplify specific messaging. These accounts were criticising Japan’s plans to deploy missile units in Okinawa.

    An index compiled by Doublethink Lab tracks China’s global influence across eleven domains, including media, foreign policy, academia and domestic politics. Of the 36 countries in the study, Cambodia, Singapore, and Thailand were the most exposed to China’s influence. But how did China gain this influence? The united front is one of the tools in China’s international influence toolkit. An investigation by ASPI unpacks how the united front shapes international opinion overseas.

    Universities are a key target for CCP influence operations. A Stanford report finds that teachers in China’s Confucius Institutes, which are often linked to individual international universities, actively disseminate CCP-approved political views.

    What’s Happening with China and Tech?

    As China’s economy falters, the regulatory crackdown against domestic technology companies has eased. Amidst escalating domestic lockdowns, China’s domestic economy is struggling. Internet regulators are no longer introducing new rules intended to limit the amount of time young people spend on apps. Officials have also ended a freeze on issuing video game licenses that had been in effect since July 2021.

    Meanwhile, the US and China continue to “decouple” their technology industries. A report by the Carnegie Endowment explores the implications of continued decoupling, in particular whether it is in the best interest of the US to “decouple.”

    Artificial intelligence is an important part of technology development in both the US and China. An article in Foreign Policy argues that autonomous weapons systems pose an escalatory risk between the two nations, and clear boundaries need to be established to prevent such escalation.


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